When my Mom, Leesa, was diagnosed with the second leading cause of cancer related death in March 2019, with the worst stage possible – stage 4 – we were scared.
My parents taught me at an early age to turn to the Word when I needed answers. I watched my mom and dad make the decision to never question “how long does she have?” Many friends would ask me if I knew her prognosis, and I honestly never did. Some couldn’t believe I was satisfied with not knowing – even Mom’s oncologist and nurses loved how she walked in confident with a sense of humor and good spirit and never once asked how much longer she had.
My parents made the choice to believe in miracles and healing. We may not have received the miracle we wanted, but we are choosing to see so much more in the work that Mom did during these 19 months. And, she is healed – by the ultimate healer.
An educator for more than 40 years, it is no coincidence that Mom was diagnosed in March 2019 which just so happens to be colon cancer awareness month. I believe Mom would want to raise awareness and teach others about the importance of screening and prevention of colon cancer. But more importantly, Mom would want to educate others about pouring fears into your faith. She was able to impact so many people by how she chose to live her last 19 months. She never complained, she never asked why me – instead she asked God to use her for others to see Him in her. How she handled this situation was remarkable, and I admire her.
I think this pandemic has opened the eyes of so many to how much teachers truly do not just for our students – but for our families and our communities. Growing up in the city where my parents taught, it seemed we could not go anywhere without my mom seeing a former or current student telling her how much they loved her and her class. I remember being young and thinking she was like a small-town celebrity. I saw how many she impacted daily over the years, but I never really felt the impact she made until recently seeing the letters written from current and past students telling her their lives were changed because they knew her.
It’s hard to think of Mrs. Trout without thinking of Mr. Trout. They were together since they were 16 – they loved each other so much, and I was lucky to watch my parents fight for their love each day. My dad, Danny Trout, was by her side before cancer – and especially during cancer. He went to every single treatment and doctor visit with her. In the hallway at her doctor’s office, there is a bell that hangs on the wall. If you are not familiar with the connection to the bell and cancer, it is a tradition that began at MD Anderson in 1996. When patients transitioned to remission, they would celebrate by inviting friends and family to watch as they rang the bell to signify the battle was finished.
Every single time Mom left the office after treatment, she would pass the bell and say to Dad “I’m going to ring that some day.” With a stage 4 cancer diagnose, Mom never once lost hope or doubted God’s plan for her life. She wanted me to have her Bible, and I have enjoyed looking through it, reading what she underlined, the notes she took, why things were important and meant something to her over the years. In her Bible, she could color some of the verses on the sides of the pages – and as I looked through it, I noticed she only colored two verses over the years.
She would want me to tell all of you that she did not lose to cancer – she has won. She won this battle, and I know she is ringing all kinds of bells in Heaven. But today Mom, while we are temporarily separated, we will ring this bell for you and celebrate your spirit, your faith and your legacy. A bell hangs in her classroom today for students to ring each time they want to remember her, to celebrate an achievement in class or to acknowledge a job well done.
I want to offer some kind of encouragement through one of the hardest journeys I’ve ever walked through. God is the same God every day. In the good, we turn to Him. In the bad, we turn to HIm. I want to offer hope to other caregivers who may be holding the hand of someone they love – someone they hate watching die. I sat with my mother everyday the week she died. I held her, brushed her hair, helped clean her, and told her how much I loved her. Nothing can replace those moments for me. She died at 67 – still so very young with so much life to live. She had never been screened for colon cancer, yet her grandfather passed away from stage 4 colon cancer. I want others to know this can be preventable through screening early. I had faith in God’s plan through all of this journey, and I believe in my heart His plan is for me to use my voice to tell my story and help others follow early screening steps and more importantly, help others find their faith in Him.